In an international market where the oldies have mostly still got it, it makes sense to start looking at the one place in the world where young people make up the majority of the fans: Asia. According to Chris Roberts, the president of PolyGram Classics - which claims 60 per cent of the classical music share in Asia, and 40 per cent worldwide - the classics side of the company is making a move to capitalise on its huge presence in the Asian - and particularly Canto - pop market: by introducing more young classical artists as well. 'We intend to be aggressive in pursuing the Far East market, and are working on improving the profile for our priority artists there,' Mr Roberts said. 'One of the great things is that young people in Asia are so willing to embrace classical music - much more than in Europe or the United States where it's much more of an older generation thing. 'With 1.5 billion people in Asia under 25, it makes a lot of sense.' So in Hong Kong we can expect more advertising and more visits by PolyGram classical artists - from the Decca, Phillips Classics and Deutsche Grammophon labels. We need not, however, hold our breath for a satellite feed of a jazz-classical equivalent of MTV (in which PolyGram holds a large stake). So far, marketing studies suggest that a CMTV would be a big loss maker. 'There have been several attempts [to create CMTV],' Mr Roberts said. 'But they have only been partly successful. It's extremely competitive. Even if you had an excellent classical music-video channel, who would be watching? If it's young people, they would only watch if the visuals are constantly interesting. If it's older people, they might not have the time.' PolyGram is, however, experimenting with adventurous classical music videos that depart radically from the conductor-at-podium tradition, and could have their place on a station like MTV. The popular young American-Israeli violinist Gil Shaham, who came to Hong Kong for a full-house concert 18 months ago, featured in the company's most successful video so far - a moody, cutting edge film to accompany the Winter segment of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, made through the REM label. The record stayed at the number one position for classics in the US for nine months last year. 'The whole approach is to take a marketing programme that is totally at one with his personality. That's why it works. But we couldn't do it - and we wouldn't want to do it - for everyone,' Mr Roberts said. At different points in the past 20 years, the market for classical music recordings has been said to be in 'a crisis', or at least at something close to saturation. In the 1980s the temporary saviour was the arrival of CDs, with the chance of repackaging the entire record catalogue. Now in the 1990s, with most world economies still suffering from the aftermath of a recession, and with many recordings by the world's top orchestras not covering their outlay, it is again time to develop new sales plans. In Britain last year, for example, classical sales fell by four per cent, and that is including compilations like The Best Classical Album in the World . . . Ever, which was indeed a best seller. The next strategy for classical music, according to PolyGram's chief executive Alain Levy, is to approach it from a superstar basis. To keep the top artists, but also to champion new talent as well. He has his doubts about the benefits of promoting a classical artist in the way that Vanessa Mae has been promoted - as a teenage sex symbol. Partly, one might speculate cynically, because the mega-popular artiste in question is signed up by a different music company. 'There is some debate within the classical world as to the desirability of the Vanessa Mae phenomenon. One would not say more than that,' Mr Levy said diplomatically. What he would say was that the classical recording business is driven, and should be driven more, by stardom. 'It's a different kind of stardom than Bon Jovi, but stardom has to do with personality. You can be the best technical conductor, but if you don't have that extra quality then it doesn't happen.' The problem for 1990s distributors are that there are few superstars today of the stature of Leonard Bernstein or Herbert von Karajan. 'It takes years and years to build people up.' PolyGram's stars of today and tomorrow include sopranos Cecilia Bartoli amd Angela Gheorghiu, as well as violinists Joshua Bell and Gil Shaham. Serious performers who also happen to be seriously photogenic. As well as promoting individual personalities, PolyGram is also increasing its concept catalogue - of the sensuous sonatas, rowdy rhondos and music-for-smooching-variety. This strategy ran into trouble - or more specifically into the lawyers' offices - earlier this year when conductor Claudio Abbado protested vociferously when his recordings of Mahler's symphonies were taken apart and resold in a romantic collection of adagios. The dispute is now settled, and that particular recording withdrawn. Levy and Roberts both asserted that in future the artists will be properly consulted. 'My feeling is that this was blown up [by the media]. It's really no big issue,' Mr Levy said. But the company did tinker with an original recording without the artist's permission 'and in this case we probably made a mistake'. 'If we did something without the artist's approval then it was wrong. On the other hand, classical artists are usually delighted when they sell a million albums. 'One of the ways you can do that is by making classical music more approachable, and packaging it as a concept, rather than as a piece of music on its own.' As chief executive for PolyGram, Mr Levy has seen the company move from being primarily a music company to being an entertainment conglomerate. Classics now make up only 10 per cent of PolyGram's business. The rest is music, movies, musicals (the company has a 30-per-cent share in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group) and TV. Nearly total entertainment. 'Entertainment is probably one of the most competitive businesses in the world,' Mr Levy said. 'Why you are good or why you are bad is never really clear. You never know whether you really have a winner until you put it out. 'It's a strange business: unlike most others, it relies totally on people. Sometimes that's difficult. Sometimes I think I'd rather deal with 100 engineers than some of the artists. But usually it is fun,' he conceded. PolyGram has maintained something of a clean cut image. Although it has certainly placed itself at the leading edge in terms of Hollywood controversy - Kids and Trainspotting have both generated huge discussions in recent months - the company refuses to deal with pornography, even if the dollars are there for the taking. 'There are shared values within the company,' Mr Levy said. 'We try not to make money out of trash.' Mr Levy said he had recently issued an internal memo specifying certain boundaries of taste. It does not, of course, give guidelines as to the use of swear words - such social taboos were outdated long ago. 'No, it's more to do with sexual positioning, treatment of nationalities and religion, it's fairly broad. 'I trust my staff, but I don't want to be surprised.' A company needs to strike a delicate balance between artistry and unnecessary outrage, he said. 'We don't want to be totally clean - people were once horrified by Picasso. 'So there are movies which are definitely borderline - like Trainspotting which created a lot of noise in England. But then you get into the areas of artistic freedom which is a different matter. Our business is to sell art, to make art accessible, so you can't act as censor, otherwise you shouldn't be an artist.' But is Trainspotting an apology for drugs? 'There is a debate about whether it is or it isn't. If I believed it was an apology for drugs I wouldn't have let it go out,' he said.